Have you ever observed someone who, in the heat of the moment made a harsh, cutting remark, or even exploded in anger, then felt bad about it but could not bring himself or herself to apologize? I’m sure you have, unless your whole life has been spent alone on an island.
I once knew a man whose childhood had been absolutely miserable, with multiple experiences of rejection and abuse. He became a Christian, but deep inside there was a determination to never let himself be hurt again. If there was ever a hint that someone was not treating him with respect he would explode with angry words. It would soon be obvious that he regretted those words, but he could not bring himself to say “I’m sorry.”
Such people have a fear that they will somehow diminish themselves if they admit to having done something wrong. Doesn’t our respect for that person become less and less the more we observe his or her explosions? It takes a big person to admit he or she has done wrong and say “I’m sorry.”
The brother I mentioned was causing himself as much hurt as anyone else had ever done. He really was a soft-hearted man who cared deeply about other people. However, his explosive temper made it difficult to maintain lasting relationships. He lived on a roller coaster of emotions. After an outburst he would not want to face the other person for a time. Eventually the feeling of shame would fade and he would again be able to visit as if nothing had happened.
My father would explode in anger whenever something went wrong. I don’t think anyone outside the immediate family knew about this side of him. I followed my father’s example and like him it was those I loved most who were exposed to my outbursts.
I repented often of my anger, but found that prayer alone did not really change anything. There was something I had to do, and that was to go to the one I had hurt and say “I’m sorry.” There was a power in saying those words, and meaning them, which began to act as a brake on my impulses to lash out.
A sincere apology does not diminish our respect for the one who apologizes. We all know he has blown his cool and appreciate it when he admits his fault and tries to make amends. The person who can humbly and forthrightly deal with his mistakes becomes a much bigger person in our eyes than the one who has never admitted making a mistake.
Someone once asked me about a visitor with whom I was acquainted. I told everything I knew. Later that day I felt I needed to go back and say that I believed I had spoken the truth, but most of what I said should have been left unsaid. Gossip can be just as hurtful as anger.
James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults one to another. This does not mean that we should make a point of confessing every little slip of the tongue if no malice was intended and no harm done. Nor do we need to invent something to confess; most of us don’t need to do that, anyway. A heartfelt apology is a soothing balm, healing wounds and deepening our relationships.